Debbie Daanen Photography

by Tim Froberg

Ashley Schmit grew up fascinated with the photos in “National Geographic” magazine and vowed she would be a professional photographer one day. She has achieved that childhood goal.

Schmit is the owner and lead photographer at Debbie Daanen Photography, a fixture in the Fox Cities that celebrates its 40th anniversary in April.

The Appleton-based business specializes in portrait photography, but handles a variety of general photo needs, working with families, businesses, and even city governmental units. Schmit, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater graduate, grew up in Freedom and worked as a photographer for Daanen for nearly 20 years before recently purchasing the business.

Schmit has photographed the likes of former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former pro football great Rocky Bleier. When she’s not snapping photos, Schmit enjoys the local live music scene.

How do you capture what a person or subject is all about?

“I don’t think you can be a good photographer without being a people person. You can put people at ease by talking with them. I shoot a lot of high school senior portraits, and that can be tough because all of them have personalities, but they may not share them with you. To put them at ease, I’ll ask them questions about what they’re into or if they have a summer job.”

What’s the most unusual photo you’ve shot?

“We’ve done kids in a graveyard, and I had a high school senior who wanted to be photographed at a Taco Bell. The most bizarre was a woman who wanted to be photographed boudoir for her boyfriend, but not in a way where you’d notice it right away. The idea was to give him a photo he could hang on the wall, but you would really have to look at it to realize it was her. I created an art piece that was a photo of a Tuscan wall that had a large clock, and she was the hand on the clock.”

Is there a runner up in that category?

“We work with a lot of local charities, including pet shelters. One time, we photographed a family with four kids along with their parents, their dog, their iguana, and parrot – all dressed in ugly Christmas sweaters.”

Have you shot at any memorable locations?

“Years ago, we worked with Visuelle Productions, which did a lot of wedding shows, and that allowed us to work with modeling groups. I went to Ireland twice, Las Vegas, and Fort Lauderdale where we shot off the back of some very expensive yachts. I went to Mexico more times than I can count. We worked with the board of tourism, because they wanted to encourage destination weddings, but with American-looking models, so that was pretty cool.”